Becoming Human – S1/Online

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This spin-off from Being Human was marketed as an “online-only exclusive”, and I confess that – having dutifully followed the bite-size instalments every week as released – I was a bit annoyed when the exclusivity went out the window and the whole thing – including the first showing of the final part – was suddenly scheduled for a BBC3 airing as a sort of post-Being Human care package for those viewers still traumatised by last week’s season finale. It felt like my “secret society” had suddenly thrown open its doors and become a tourist theme park. I’m still not sure whether the change is because the spin-off has been so successful and well-received that BBC bosses decided it needed a proper channel airing, or whether it was doing so badly that the only way to salvage anything from it was to seek the oxygen of broadcasting. I hope the former.

Still, enough about the production context; what about Becoming Human the show? Inevitably its original bite-size chunks (please excuse any vampire or werewolf unintended puns inherent in that phrase!) are evident when put together into one 55 minute program: despite the single through-story, the narrative clearly stops and starts every six or seven minutes by nature of the online format. It’s to the credit of the writers and the directors that this isn’t more annoying that it actually is, and the show more or less gets away with it – and even that some of the linking/segment start sequences are the nicest, most arty things in it.

It’s a bit difficult to know where this show is being pitched: it feels like a rather odd hybrid, and rather too easy to lose the audience in the gap. If Being Human is for mid-20-somethings then I guess Becoming Human would be for mid-teens, which explains its school setting and the age of its principle cast; and yet the show is a little too smart and stylish and intelligent to be really aimed at the Hollyoaks audience. There might not be nearly as much blood, guts and top-grade swearing as its parent show, but there’s still too much horror and general cursing for its supposed main demographic. Some of the dialogue relies (very wittily) on 80s pop-culture references, which again will be over the heads of a teen audience. In the other hand, would a grown-up audience really be that taken with a show whose main story is about being a teenager, the pains of surviving school-life, dealing with teachers – and bullying? In any case, who would be watching this spin-off if they hadn’t already been of an age to be fans of Being Human? If anything, this feels like a relaunch of the core series concept of a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost meeting up and becoming friends – a return to the original Being Human series which was fun and light and happy to be occasionally insubstantial, before it became all Dark and Angsty and Meaningful. If you liked that first series of Being Human and miss its lightness of touch then Becoming Human could be the show for you.

All that said – if you’re willing to go with it, and are a 20- or 30-something still happy to go back to school in TV land, this is a terrific little gem of a show. The writing is wonderful, the show looks and sounds terrific for an online-only venture (until its broadcast airing I hadn’t properly appreciated the great soundtrack), and it’s just terrifically witty throughout with some great dialogue brought to life by a top-grade young cast. In particular it stars Craig Roberts, playing the young vampire Adam who debuted in an eponymous episode of Being Human, who manages to steal every scene by little looks, gestures and quirks that make his character spring off the screen. I would at this point be predicting a brilliant future for this actor, if only the little blighter hadn’t beaten me to it and be currently starring in Richard Ayoade’s film Submarine at the cinema right now, with both the film and Roberts’ lead performance getting rave reviews. Not that the other leads – Josh Brown as XXL-sized ghost Matt and Leila Mimmack as werewolf Christa – aren’t also excellent. Christa gets some of the best put downs, usually directed at Adam: “Seriously, do you not have an off-switch?” she barks at him after his latest inappropriate quip as the two continue their love-hate (mostly hate) screwball relationship.

As for the through-story – about who made Matt a ghost in the first place, and where his body is – it’s inevitably underdeveloped given only 55 minutes and that the online format was to fashion each instalment around confronting a new red herring suspect, but the writing is successful enough that the whodunnit reveal when it comes is one of those gloriously “out of the blue”/”why didn’t I see that coming” moments that many a more “serious” show would kill for.

On the whole, then, well worth catching. I doubt it will get picked up and developed further, but that’s a shame – this has real potential and genuine class.

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